TROY >> Their official biography calls them “North America’s premier wind quintet.”
But, Imani Winds, which plays at Thursday night at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, is even more comprehensive than that.
“We’re the only full time wind quintet,” clarinetist Mariam Adam said. “In fact, I think of us as like a 24-hour 7-11.” And she laughs at the analogy. “We don’t close for business.”
And so the five members of Imani Winds — spend 10 months of the year performing and recording, and striving to promote what Adam calls “sometimes a bit of the stepchild of chamber music.” They’ve been a fixture of major performing spaces, the Kennedy Centers and Carnegie halls, but also of college campuses and chamber series everywhere.
“With the quintet’s repertoire, we try to bring out a lot of pieces the audience hasn’t heard, repertoire that pulls away from the traditional wind quintet literature,” Adam said. “We live and breathe the quintet music of up and coming composers at the conservatories at which we perform.”
In particular, she notes, they have championed contemporary chamber music of the Western Hemisphere, as a new recording due in the fall will reflect, with selections from Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzola, Eliot Carter and Samuel Barber. The also actively seek to expand their repertoire by soliciting new works by both established and up-and-coming composers, through their Legacy Commissioning Project.
What they can’t find or commission, they create: two members of the ensemble, French horn player Jeff Scott and flautist Valerie Coleman, are composers and arrangers in their own rights.
“We balance pieces that have become standards in the wind quintet repertoire with pieces we hope will become standards,” Adam said.
Oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz and bassoonist Monica Ellis round out the ensemble — and, in a rarity for chamber music ensembles of all stripes, they have maintained the same lineup since Imani Winds originated in 1997.
“A lot of that’s because we’ve grown together as an ensemble,” Adam said. “Their Troy concert program reflects their broad and eclectic tastes. The program opens with one of the pieces that will make an appearance on the new recording, one of their favorite concert-closers, a Coleman composition with a distinctly klezmer sensibility called “Tzigane.”
They follow that with “Shadow,” by Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen. Then, a series of tone poems by Karel Husa, “who has this ability to stretch the capabilities of wind players, whether it’s stretching their range, or creating colors not usually heard in chamber music.”
A jazz-inflected Coleman work, “Rubisphere,” and Scott’s arrangement of Simon Shaheen’s “Dance Mediterranea” — “kind of an Aarbic dance piece,” Adam describes it — are sandwiched around the centerpiece of the program — a new arrangement for winds by Jonathan Russell of Igor Stravinsky’s monumental “The Rite of Spring.”
“It’s not the full 45 minutes, but about 21 or so,” Adam said. “This arrangement offers some of the highlights and brings them forward. It picks off layers so you can hear what Stravinsky’s really written underneath (for the winds). In the full-length work, the piccolo and clarinet are somewhat covered by brass and timpani. We’re just taking what’s already there in the wind voice and highlighting it. And really, nobody’s missing too much when you get to the end.”
In Swahili “imani” means “faith”, and Adam and her colleagues have a great deal of that in the belief that many of their commissions and new arrangements have staying power:
“The life of these works beyond the premiere is something we’re always thinking about,” she said.
Their goal is simple: “to bring new people out to our concerts and pull people away from the string quartet with their ears.”